Why Poetry Matters
What is the point of an art form so utterly uncommercial, impractical, and distant from the prosaic focus of our daily routine?- Julian H Lowenfeld
The point, as Wordsworth put it, is that “the world is too much with us, late and soon…” and we sometimes need release from that imprisonment of our mind and soul.
We need poetry because “Poetry is the link between the real and the ideal worlds” and without an Ideal, the Real descends to chaos and decay and barbarism.
And the less we seek and experience the ideal, the faster and worse our descent. Poetry civilizes us by keeping us in touch with what really matters.
Years ago, browsing through the great bookstores that used to be so plentiful, I began to wonder if anyone read poetry except poets and the occasional reluctant student. Certainly many people dabble in writing poetry, and while chatting with others in the poetry section, I found all of us were ‘amateur poets’. I suspect we dilettantes are the only market for poetry, a fact that professional poets probably find depressing. (Many poets of an earlier time had mundane professional lives. Their poetry was ‘dilettante’ by definition, but age seems to have cast a patina of respectability over their efforts. Go figure.)
Back in my Greenwich Village days in the golden ’60s, I wrote pretty consistently, to the point that I finally had to decide whether I wanted to Become-A-Poet or just write poems. I very deliberately chose a different livelihood. Marriage and family were added to the mix, and poetry was moved to the back burner. Whether I should have taken the other road is a question that will always haunt me.
It wasn’t so much a question of time to write, as a poem can be written in a matter of minutes. However, it may take hours or days or even weeks to achieve the necessary mental and emotional ambience for those few minutes of actual creation. I passed on becoming a poet because I was unwilling to accept, or at least uncertain about living in a poet’s mindset. And if you know much about the lives of most modern poets, you can understand my reluctance. There are many poets whose work I respect and love – and whose lives I would definitely not want to emulate. (My liver probably wouldn’t take it).
To the extent that art concerns itself with the Ideal World, artists will always be out of step with those whose lives are an attempt to master the Real World. Neither the artist nor the non-artist will ever really ‘master’ their respective worlds, but at least the artist is striving for something worth attaining, something which is intrinsically valuable.
In my view, art of any sort has two components. The first, and lesser of the two, is the craft to embody the artist’s perception. The more vital component is that perception; the ability to look at the same things we all look at and see something different, something extra, something beyond. It is this ability of the artist which expands our perception, enhances our grasp of the world, increases our humanity. All true art does that.
Poety is “Language that tells us  something that can not be said…” – E. A. Robinson
Sir Philip Sidney also noted “…poetry is of all human learnings the most ancient  from whence other learnings take their beginnings…”
Man’s first attempt to grasp the nature of the world and our place in it was expressed in poetry. It was the language of Truth and universally recognized as such by all cultures. It is no accident the ancient bards stood high at the king’s court; that a composition of a bard might settle a dispute that would otherwise mean battle; that all tribal societies seem to have a sacred language.
How does one identify poetry? Robert Graves quoted Houseman’s practical test:
Does it make the hairs of one’s chin bristle if one repeats it silently while shaving?
I have my own criterion:
Can I recite it aloud without breaking down mid-poem
The final chorus of Eric Bogle’s “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda:
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda and the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear.
Someday no on will march there at all.
Padriac Pearse’s “The Mother”
I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
My two strong sons that I have seen go out
To break their strength and die, they and a few,
In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
They shall be spoken of among their people,
The generations shall remember them,
And call them blessed;
But I will speak their names to my own heart
In the long nights;
The little names that were familiar once
Round my dead hearth.
Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
We suffer in their coming and their going;
And tho’ I grudge them not, I weary, weary
Of the long sorrow–And yet I have my joy:
My sons were faithful, and they fought.
Excerpt from Padriac Pearse’s “The Fool”
And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life
In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things,
To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold.
Think this is Arthur Symons from Poetica Erotica anthology but could not verify
All that I know of love, I learned from you,
And I know all that lover ever knew,
Since – passionately loving to be loved –
The subtlties of your wise body moved
My senses to a curiousity
And your wise heart adorned itself for me.
Did you not teach me how to love you? How
to win you? How to suffer? I suffer
For you now with that same skill
Of self-consuming ecstatsy whose thrill
– may Death someday the thought of it remove –
You gathered from the very hands of Love.
The American Way
Excerpt from The American Way – Gregory Corso
What is the Way?
The Way was born out of the American Dream a
The state of Americans today compared to the Americans
of the 18th century proves the nightmare—
Not Franklin not Jefferson who speaks for America today
but strange red-necked men of industry
and the goofs of show business.
Americans are a great people
I ask for some great and wondrous event
that will free them from the Way
and make them a glorious purposeful people once
I do not know if that event is due deserved
or even possible
I can only hold that man is the victory of life
And I hold firm to American man.
What poets/poems enrich your life?
h/t Carol Lea Booth And as long as we’re on the subject…
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